Great news! It’s Sexual Harassment Seminar Day! (“Everybody clear your browser histories,” says Julius, The Weary PA.) Oh, Miles, it’s mandatory, you say? Murphy cheerfully announces, “You can’t spell mandatory without man,” so she’ll see all you suckers tomorrow. Frank wants to go to Phil’s (again, it’s nine in the morning! Find a diner!), but with Julius blocking the elevator, there’s no choice but to take a seat. Pat Patel doesn’t mind. This is his first sexual harassment seminar, and today, he is a man — a fully-employed man! He’s so excited about those bennies and the 401k he keeps shouting “Topple the patriarchy! Woo! Preach!” at Brandon Jensen, who is here with his Comic Sans PowerPoint, “Sexual Harassment & You.” Even the most innocent comment can be construed as sexual harassment, BJ tries to tell them. Murph pipes up, “I’m sorry, if Frank wears a deep V-neck again, I’m commenting.” There’s no risk, as she points out: “Hello, the show’s Murphy in the Morning, they’re not firing me.” This is what I am talking about, people! Murphy Brown is back!! He asks if the names Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and Bill O’Riley ring any bells, and … sure, I guess asking Frank why his chest hair is on display is exactly like using a secret button under your desk to close your office door so you can tell your assistant you want her to rub you with falafel in private.
Meanwhile, Frank’s worried about knowing how to behave in the workplace, but luckily Pat Patel needs a beta (haha) tester for his new app, “APPropriate Behavior,” which helps “old men navigate the ever-changing landscape of gender politics.” It’s, like, a negative feedback thing: if you use inappropriate language, it sends a vibration. No, Frank, it’s not that PP never sleeps, it’s that he “functions on very little, like dolphins, bullfrogs, and bees.” I like these two together. Good timing. “Put my phone in your pocket and say something inappropriate to me!” Frank’s sort of intense response (“I could get lost in your … deep … brown eyes”) yields a vibration and an awkward “Thank you!” This is — like, this scene is clearly supposed to be slightly suggestive, right, with the vibrations and the pocket and the deep … brown eyes, but it’s not entirely clear how, so it is both funny and somehow not a gross tee-hee joke about male sexuality. Well done.
But, just like that, we’re at Phil’s and the gratification of classic Murphy is snatched away from us once again. Insert tedious sequence in which Phyllis asks everyone in the bar to stop saying “ice” because it’s Miguel’s “trigger word.” This is the second time the show has gone for a “trigger word” joke — Frank’s is “Nazi”; it was funny — and I can only conclude that Diane English brought back Murphy Brown in part so that she could tell those Social Justice Warrior snowflakes what’s what. Wow, you really showed the younger generation!!!
There are other people at Phil’s, because by now it’s probably 11 am, i.e., a more reasonable hour to be there. Overhearing the gang talking about sexual harassment, Hothead Paisan Phyllis perks up. “ARE WE TALKING ABOUT MEN?” She has only one comment: “Four husbands, and not one of them could find the spot.” This reminds me of the time my mom employed a baseball sexuality metaphor to convey that I was unlikely to contract a UTI because “men are dirty.” (Happy National Coming Out Day??) Corky tells the dudes that she doesn’t know any women who haven’t been harassed — right, Murphy? No, who would try that with Murphy? In a welcome distraction, Monica from the research department, with whom Miles is besotted, swings by to tell him that she’s almost done researching medications for “miracle drugs” for erectile dysfunction.
That evening, the star of Avery Across America returns from Hoosier territory to find his mother assiduously organizing her Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons — which never expire, everyone thinks they expire, and “it’s like throwing away a brand-new toaster!!” No, nothing’s wrong, it’s just that the sexual harassment training “brought up a few memories, that’s all.” Avery is kind and patient while she explains that her favorite college professor invited her back to his house — for a party, she thought — to celebrate her Collegiate Reporter of the Year award and “something happened.” She’s always wondered whether accepting his attention and small gifts was “a signal or something.” Avery, who explains that her professor was grooming her, is clearly woke AF, and I’m only a little annoyed by it.
Next day, Murphy comes by for Phyllis’s day-old coffee and her advice (“And I thought cleaning the men’s room was going to be the worst part of this job,” she says). Phyllis understands: “We both know what it was like back then. We flattered egos, laughed at lousy jokes, and if something happened, we didn’t talk about it.” Murphy should go see him, have a civilized discussion, and then clock him in the nuts. She should do it for all the other women he’s preyed on; they both know there must be others. Time for a road trip!
When Murphy arrives at Professor Talbot’s house, one of The Others answers the door. This is Jessica, his former student and new assistant, and she’s excited that the legendary Murphy Brown is visiting. Jessica is 19, like Murphy was. Murphy’s Collegiate Reporter of the Year award is on display in a glass case in the foyer. Jessica thinks it was so nice of Murphy to give it to hi— wait, he tried to get frisky and then he took her award? People, this is not a drill. Also not a drill: this guy’s study has more Murphy Brown stuff than Murphy Brown has hanging in her own house. He’s been following her career from afar. This is a sitcom, so we don’t need to worry, but you and I both know what that shrine would portend if this were Law & Order: SVU.
And here’s the couch where her beloved professor tried to pin her down and assault her all those years ago. Before Jessica leaves, Murphy digs into her coat pocket and hands her a card. “If you ever want to leave this job, call me,” she says. “My network’s always looking for young, smart people.” Atta girl, Murph.
Enter Professor Talbot (old, loud, surprised to see her after so long). It goes the way you’d expect. She wants the truth and an apology; he wants a thank you for all he’s done for her. “You were always a great storyteller, Murphy,” and then tells one of his own — she’d been flirting with him for months and sending out signals that night. But she’s not having that. She remembers that she was crying when she left, so upset that “I forgot my award, and I love awards.” Professor Talbot asks cynically if this is some sort of #MeToo ploy — “women dredging up the past, pointing fingers, ruining reputations?” No, “you made me doubt myself,” she says quietly, and that, Professor Talbot, is what it is about. I’m not crying, you’re crying. Oh, you weak miserable excuse for a man. She came for closure, and she knows how she’s going to get it, she says, snatching some sort of gavel from a table and brandishing it at him. But she’s not Phyllis, so she uses it to liberate her Collegiate Reporter of the Year award and goes home. This time, she’s not running.
Back at Phil’s, Frank has been zapped by Pat Patel’s app so many times that he’s limping, Manuel’s hitting the deck when he hears his trigger word, and Corky’s telling Miles about the time she was at Gumbo Land and Jambalaya Jimmy pulled down his shorts and showed her “his lil’ shrimp.” Murphy’s at peace. She’s settled for knowing the truth whether or not others acknowledge it— a resolution that these days feels more authentic than a shoehorned sitcom ending. On that note, here comes Monica, who’s leaving Murphy in the Morning — and yes, Miles can absolutely take her on a date sometime soon.
This episode is closer to the sensibility of Murphy Brown’s original incarnation than any we’ve seen so far (which makes the SJW missteps more glaring, too). The show has always been about how Murphy negotiates her vulnerabilities and about what projecting invulnerability has cost her. We see that in the pilot, when she returns to work after leaving rehab. The lesson for her is not “the world needs u 2 be more vulnerable.” It’s that the people around her will protect her and care for her when she is — that the performance isn’t her only shield. And the other thing that it’s always been about (and which I, frankly, cherish) is that Murphy Brown is mean, sometimes truly spiteful, and she’s not penalized for it in the way that women often are. The people around her aren’t interested in softening her. (She once left a dead fish in Frank’s car and definitely did not apologize.) Which, like, way more my speed as far as wish fulfillment goes. I’d much rather believe that this is possible — that there are safe harbors for “difficult women” — than wrest satisfaction from the fact that she might really tell off that Donald Trump.
Anyway, she lets Phyllis keep the gavel. A nutcracker, if you get her drift. Here’s hoping it’s the beginning of an arc!!!!
Misc. & Assorted:
• The researcher bit reminds me of the perfect and transcendent Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy movie Desk Set, which was written by the Ephron gals’ mère et père, and which you should watch immediately.
• More Julius, please.
• The “Sexual Harassment & You” PowerPoint slides feature these amazing cartoons — first, a wolf boss (an actual wolf) trying to pounce on a blond employee (not a wolf) and, later, the wolf boss flashing her with his trench coat (an actual trench coat).
• Murphy is right: Get a flu shot!!!!!